MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — We’ve been hearing a lot this week about the struggles, perceptions and realities of Somali-Americans living in the Twin Cities. But along with the difficulties, there are many success stories to be told.
WCCO’s Laura Oakes introduces us to a few in our last installment of “Home Grown: The Somali-American Struggle.”
You might say 38-year-old Sahra Noor is a bit of an overachiever. In a Kenyan refugee camp during her teens, her single father and four siblings ended up in the U.S., where Sahra made it through high school in two years while teaching herself English by watching TV talk shows.
Fast forward to college in the Twin Cities. She was a single mother on a very limited income and remembers a day when her 2-year old daughter came down with an ear infection. That was her first experience with Peoples Center Health Services in Minneapolis. Now, she’s running the place. Sahra says she’ll never forget the phone call to her dad when she landed the job.
“I said, Dad! Can you believe it? I’m the CEO! And he said, ‘Why wouldn’t I believe it? You worked hard to get where you are. I want you to take this in. You got the opportunities, but you really worked hard,'” Sahra said.
Abdi Warsame, the son of a political prisoner, has a Master’s degree. He educated in London, where as the oldest kid, he also had the job of raising his younger brothers and sisters.
“I remember being 10 or 11, going to teacher-parent meetings for my siblings. From a very young age I understood the budget, how much money was coming into the family, that we were poor,” Warsame said. “That I had to do very well, because I had to be an example for my younger brothers and sisters.”
Now, he’s Minneapolis’ first Somali-American city councilman and holds the highest political office of any Somali-American in the country, which isn’t as glamorous as it sounds.
“You can’t really fail. There’s a lot of pressure to deliver. And you have to be Superman at times, which you are not,” he said.
And Cawo Abdi, recently tenured sociology professor at the University of Minnesota. She was educated in Canada, thanks to some hard-working sisters devoted to her success.
“My sisters worked in factories that made belts in Montreal. They walked a couple of miles through fields filled with snow. And they worked at that factory for almost three years so they could save enough money to bring us over to Canada,” Abdi said.
What do these stories have in common? Determination, sacrifice and family.
Family members doing anything they can to propel their children and siblings down a path of success. And unwavering confidence, a sense of just knowing they could accomplish anything they wanted with some very hard work.